“We talk so much about sustainable agriculture and the foods that we’re putting into our bodies,“ says Lauren Friel, wine director at the Cambridge restaurant Oleana and its sister restaurant Sharma. ”To not extend that to wine is a really big gap in the conversation."
The decision to create an exclusively organic wine list emerged naturally from the restaurant’s organic menu. Chef Ana Sortun’s locally sourced ingredients, which primarily come from her husband’s farm, have contributed to Oleana’s success over the past decade, and represent the restaurant’s dedication to sustainable practices.
What started out as an environmental decision for Friel, however, soon grew into a personal preference. To her, the presence of the terroir is much more striking in organic and biodynamic wines. "The wines are more expressive, period.”
Oleana’s Mediterranean cuisine requires wines that do not overpower the subtle tastes of their menu. To find this balance, Friel seeks out wines that have high acid and low alcohol, preferring wines from cooler climates with thinner-skinned grapes, “more kind of nuanced wines.” She says organic wines perfectly fit the bill because “they do tend to be lower in alcohol and higher in natural acidity, and nobody’s using really aggressive oak treatments.”
The wine list at Oleana features a wide variety of grapes and regions, taking risks that Friel does not believe would be possible if Boston were a larger city. "If Boston had that larger reputation, it would feel the pressure to have big ticket wines all the time.” Flying just under the radar, Friel is able to provide bottles from smaller natural producers, many of which she finds through the importer, Selector Naturale, owned by Matteo Mollo.
Mollo, who according to Friel “hunts down wines on his own, in little restaurants and villages throughout Italy,” provides wines from grapes that no one is using, from obscure regions like Friel’s current favorite, Boca. ”They are feminine, elegant, pure and unique – they’re just gorgeous.” Their growing place on the market has facilitated Friel’s ability to add more wines from Boca to the wine menu. “They just sing with our food."
The Cambridge community seems to agree. Guests at Oleana are enthusiastic about Oleana’s all-organic wine list, which Friel attributes to the way Oleana educates its staff, and to their higher-learning location. “We have the advantage of being in an intellectual city. We have Harvard and MIT right down the street, so we have adventurous people looking to try these things.”
When these graduate students and professors frequently ask Friel ‘What’s your favorite wine?’ she struggles to find a response. “You have wines being made by one person, and you know about their families and about their dogs and children and about their lineage… it’s like picking your favorite child.” Friel concludes that the beauty in representing so many organic wines from smaller producers is that “it’s not just a beverage, it’s a story.”